The Sunshine State Offers a Slate of Autumn Events and Festivals from Coast to Coast
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (September 2019): With summer over and fall in full swing, the Sunshine State still brims with activity from coast to coast. As the temperatures drop, the balmy weather invites visitors to explore a smorgasbord of fall events. From ticketed events and freebies to back-to-nature and cultural activities, here are 15 of the state’s top offerings this season:
1. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (Orlando – Aug. 29-Nov. 23): Foodies near and far fill the lands at Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park during this popular 12-week festival, sipping and noshing their way around the world. This year’s event features more than 35 international food kiosks filled with exotic culinary delights. Plus, the festival dishes up celebrity chefs, cooking demonstrations, beverage seminars, hands-on workshops, guest speakers, and the can’t-miss Eat to the Beat concert series.
2. Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights (Orlando – Sept. 6-Nov. 2): Billed as the world’s premier Halloween event, Universal Orlando’s Horror Nights goes back in time to the 1980s at this year’s event, promising visitors “there’s no escape from the decade that just won’t die.” With 10 terrifying haunted houses, 5 heart-pounding scare zones, and over-the-top live entertainment, the event draws thrill-seekers and scare-mongers alike.
3. Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream (Tampa Bay – Sept. 20-Nov. 2): Celebrating “20 Years of Fear,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay invites you to run for your life at its annual fright fest that draws in brave visitors looking for Halloween thrills and chills. Tour horrifying houses, wander through terrifying scare zones, and hop aboard thrilling rollercoaster rides in the dark for 22 select nights.
4. Hooters Clearwater Offshore Nationals (Clearwater – Sept. 27-29): Gear up for power boat racing, team meet-and-greets, and a boat parade to cap off Clearwater’s three-day event. Boat-lovers viewing options range from beach-side at Pier 60 to VIP viewing parties and up-close race-day cruises.
5. Destin’s 71st Annual Fishing Rodeo (Destin – Oct. 1-31): Get hooked on this beloved Emerald Coast month-long fishing tournament—perfect for anglers young and old. Dubbed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin offers vibrant emerald-green waters, sugar-sand beaches, and balmy temps for the 30,000 participants hoping to claim the title of rodeo champion.
6. Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee Bike Ride (Inverness – Oct. 6): The Adventure Coast’s beautiful fall weather beckons cyclists of all skill levels to explore old-Florida charm at the Rails to Trails ride that begins and ends in Inverness. Hit the 46-mile, paved Withlacoochee State Trail, taking riders on a meandering trip through one of the top destination trails in the country.
7. Amelia Island Jazz Festival (Amelia Island – Oct. 6-13): Set against the backdrop of Florida’s beautiful eastern coastline, the 16th annual jazz festival features some of the world’s legendary musicians. The festival draws in jazz lovers of many styles, including swing, bebop, Dixieland, big band, Latin and contemporary. This year’s top-notch lineup includes Delfeayo Marsalis, Jamil Sharif, Trio Caliente, Les DeMerle and Bonnie Eisele. Concerts are staged in several venues around Amelia Island, including a free community concert in Amelia Park. Special events include Jazz & Wine Tasting and Jazz Brunch.
8. Biketoberfest (Daytona Beach – Oct. 17-20): Itching for full-throttle fun? Check out Daytona Beach’s wildly popular Biketoberfest speeding into town for a four-day run. This annual motorcycle rally regularly draws in more than 125,000 bikers with live music, motorcycle racing at Daytona International Speedway, custom bike builds, and miles of scenic rides along A1A.
9. Fantasy Fest (Key West – Oct. 18-27): Celebrating four decades of masquerade madness, Fantasy Fest serves up a 10-day party in Key West filled with creative flair, including outrageous costuming, themed parties, pet costume contest, headdress ball, libations and street fairs. With this year’s theme of “In Tune But…Off Key,” this dress-up extravaganza expects a crowd of 70,000 revelers for its Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade (Oct. 26).
10. Pro Watercross World Championships (Naples – Oct. 25 – Nov. 3): Looking for water stunts, jumps and wipeouts? Head to Naples’ Sugden Regional Park to catch this free event showcasing the best Powersports athletes competing on the most challenging personal watercraft racing courses in the world. Arrive early to claim a spot at the lake!
11. Foo Fest (Pensacola – Oct. 31 – Nov. 11): Talk about a mashup of fun! The annual Foo Fest hits all the right notes with the best of Pensacola’s art, food, music and entertainment. Blue Angels Air Show? Check. Big Green Egg Cook-Off? Check. Songwriters’ music festival? Check. Find all of this and then some at this eclectic 12-day festival.
12. Kid Free November (Jacksonville – Nov. 1-31): Take advantage of Jacksonville’s month-long promotion and visit dozens of waterfront destinations for free with the family in tow. This seasonal deal offers free admission (with a paying adult) for up to five kids ages 12 and under to more than a dozen of the city’s top attractions. From kayaking, bowling and ice skating to museums, zoos and concerts, families will find plenty of affordable Jax fun.
13. Florida International Air Show (Punta Gorda – Nov. 1-3): Imagination takes flight at this 38th Annual Air Show held at the Punta Gorda Airport. The USAF Thunderbirds take to the skies to perform daring maneuvers, with SOCOM Para-Commandos jumpstarting the show. Witness the breath-taking precision aerobatics above and the speed of flame-throwing McCart Jet Truck on land, with can’t-miss daytime and evening shows.
14. Emerald Coast Cruzin’ Car Show (Panama City Beach – Nov. 6-9) Just one block from the beach, thousands of hot rods and classic cars can be found at the 17-acre Aaron Bessant Park. From swap meets, parades and giveaways to a block party, car auction and concert, this bi-annual event revs up the weekend with family-friendly fun.
15. The Bradenton Blues Festival (Bradenton – Dec. 6-8): With 11 bands playing “real deal blues” and a free concert to kick-off the weekend, this world-class festival takes over Bradenton’s quaint downtown and Riverwalk area overlooking the Manatee River. Thousands of Blues fanatics annually head to this immersive, three-day experience that ends with a soulful Blues Brunch on Sunday.
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As the Sunshine State’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 124.7 million visitors in 2018. Based on the latest economic impact study, Florida visitors contributed $85.9 billion to Florida's economy and supported 1.5 million Florida jobs in 2017. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, the official tourism marketing corporation for the State of Florida, $2.15 in tax revenue is generated. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism to Florida through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs. As a public/private partnership, VISIT FLORIDA serves more than 13,000 tourism industry businesses, including major strategic alliance partnerships with Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney Destinations, The Hertz Corporation, Hilton, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando, Simon Shopping Destinations and Universal Orlando Resort. To learn more about VISIT FLORIDA, please go to VISITFLORIDA.org or follow us on our industry social media channels: Facebook and Twitter @FloridaTourism.